Poetry for Men


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Poetry for Men

By Bobby Neal Winters

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:4—6

When I was growing up, reading poetry, or any other sort of intellectual activity, wasn’t seen by the circle of folks around the oil patch where I group up to very be manly. In my opinion, this was a hold over from the frontier culture that goes all the way back at least as far as Washington Irving. The frontier schoolmaster as a milquetoast is an axiom of American literature. When one says “Ichabod Crane,” the image of a manly, masculine individual does not pop to mind.

Yet men are passionate beings. I’ve heard Garrison Keillor say they are more passionate even than women. Indeed, the stereotype of the man as the stone-faced stoic and the woman as being run by her emotions is way out of whack. While I am not one of those who say that men and women are the same, I do think that image needs revising. Men need to become more aware of their passions so they may discipline them and direct them.

Movie westerns are one way this is done, but they will only take a man so far. In order to explore our passions and emotions, we need poetry, and it has to be poetry of a different sort than say Baxter Black. I say this even while liking his work.

Given my predispositions, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I would suggest we look first to the Bible for poetry. More specifically, we should look to the book of Psalms. While there are many psalms that appeal to a wide audience, not just men, there are those, and I am thinking of the so-called Psalms of David, which have a masculine appeal.
Scholars debate whether these particular psalms were written by David or simply inspired by him, but regardless, their association with him gives them a masculine flavor.

These psalms allow us into the mind of the Warrior-King in the days of old. We are allowed to walk around behind his eyes and view the world through them in times of triumph and tragedy and to see how close together these two things can be.

The famous 23rd Psalm is frequently read at funerals. It begins by setting a calm, pastoral stage, “The Lord is my Shepard / I shall not want / He makes me lie down in green pastures, / he leads me beside quiet waters, / he restores my soul,” and it ends on a triumphal note “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, / and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

However, this comes on the heels of the 22nd Psalm which is known best to us by its despairing beginning “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” which was on Jesus’ lips as he hung on the cross. That chapter goes on to the depths of despair, wherein the psalmist says, “I am poured out like water, / and all my bones are out of joint. / My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.”

But even within this utter desolation we see hope “But you, O LORD, be not far off; / O my Strength, come quickly to help me. / Deliver my life from the sword, / my precious life from the power of the dogs.”

Set within poetry, which is the very language of feeling, these sentiments can break through even the stoniest exterior. A man can realize he is not alone. Others separated from him by distance, time, and culture have had these feelings. Loneliness is can be one of the most painful emotions, and having the company and understanding even of one long dead can be one of the most powerful balms.